Chayote (Sechium edule) is a versatile vegetable that is very popular in America and Southeast Asia. Thus, the cultivation of the heat-loving plant also succeeds in temeprate climates.
The chayote (Sechium edule) is cultivated intensively in large parts of America and Southeast Asia, and in Europe it is found mainly in the Mediterranean region. The fruits bearing the same name can be used in many ways, for example, they can be steamed, boiled, grilled or enjoyed raw. The taste of the chayote is reminiscent of cucumber, potato, zucchini or even mild kohlrabi.
Appearance and growth
The vigorous climbing plant from the cucurbit family (Cucurbitaceae) reminds in growth and appearance of its relatives pumpkin, cucumber and melon. Its shoots can sometimes spread so much that just one plant takes up an entire greenhouse. From the foliage to the young shoots to the roots, all parts of the chayote are edible and can be used in a variety of ways. The fruits can reach a size of 10 to 20 centimeters (4 to 8 inches) and a weight of up to one kilogram. They have a pale green, firm flesh and, depending on the variety, have an elongated or roundish to pear-shaped form and a dark green to light green skin. This can be grooved, smooth or spiny. Each fruit contains a single seed, also tasty, which begins to germinate while still inside the ripe chayote. Therefore, they cannot be stored for long at room temperature.
Location and soil
In temperate climate, outdoor cultivation only proves successful in warm regions and hot summers, when the fruits can ripen well until the first frost. Chayotes are perennial, but not hardy, which is why they are usually grown as annuals in temperate climate. The plant likes it warm and thrives best in loose, humus-rich soil. In the bed, you should choose a location in full sun or partial shade. It is important to remember that the vigorous plant forms a lot of leaf mass. It is best to direct the tendrils along a fence, trellis, trellis framework or pergola. This way you can use the area underneath for other crops and easily harvest the drooping fruit. In cool regions, growing it protected in a greenhouse is advisable. The exotic plant can also be cultivated well as a container plant and used for greening a terrace, balcony or courtyard.
Crop rotation and mixed culture
Cucurbits belong to the group of heavy feeders, as neighbors you should choose medium to weak feeders. If you allow the plant to grow up or over the bed on trellises, crops that are comfortable in partial shade can grow underneath. In the same spot, avoid growing other members of the same vegetable family the next year.
Starting in February, the chayote can be grown from ripe fruits, which can be bought, for example, in Asian markets. Since the seed germinates inside the fruit, you press it whole into the ground about halfway. To do this, you should use a pot that has a volume of at least five liters. Place this in a warm, bright spot and keep the soil at most slightly moist for the next few weeks. At a temperature of about 20 °C (68 °F), strong roots and shoots will form after 14 to 20 days. Now you should water the seedling daily and tie it up to a stick. At the end of May to the beginning of June, the seedling can move to its final place or to a larger container. The now very soft fruiting body should be dug in to the base of the shoot, mixed with humus-rich compost and organic slow-release fertilizer in the planting hole, and the root area should be watered vigorously.
Care for chayote
To ensure that the vigorous plants can supply their leaves, shoots and fruit with moisture and nutrients, they should be watered thoroughly at least once a week after planting, or two or three times a week if the weather remains consistently dry, ensuring that the root zone is thoroughly watered. The plant is happy to receive nettle manure every three to four weeks. If the plant feels comfortable in its location, you can literally watch it grow. To control the growth of the green mass, it is advisable to regularly shorten the shoots and thin out the foliage. This keeps the growth of the chayote a little more compact, prevents infection and pest infestation and also stimulates fruit ripening.
Diseases and pests
As with other cucurbits, chayote leaves can be susceptible to powdery and downy mildew. An airy location and loose growth will counteract fungal attack, and spraying with horsetail tea will make the foliage more resistant.
Both male and female flowers grow close together on the same plant and depend on pollination by insects. A second chayote nearby increases yield, but is usually not necessary. Even one plant can produce as many as 200 fruits under optimal growing conditions. Depending on the planting date, fruits begin to form in mid- or late August and mature within 30 to 45 days.
Harvesting and using chayote
It is best to harvest chayotes on an ongoing basis as soon as they are about the size of a fist and still hard, but no later than before the first frost. As they ripen, the fruits lose flavor and tend to rot more quickly. The vegetable has a mild, slightly sweet flavor that enhances countless dishes and can be cooked with the skin on, baked or enjoyed raw in salads. For stewing, you should peel the fruit, preferably under running water, so that the flesh can better absorb the spices during preparation. Chayotes can be stored in the refrigerator for about two weeks. However, it is advisable to process them as soon as possible after harvest.